Lesbian or Queer?

In the Introduction of the book, Female Desires, which I use excerpts from several times, there is thought concerning the use of the word lesbian, which I find very important and useful, especially using a transnational perspective. The following are direct quotes from that Introduction, written by the Editors of the anthology, Sakia E. Wieringa and Evelyn Blackwood.

“Making ‘lesbian’ a global category is problematic because it imposes the Eurocentric term ‘lesbian,’ a term usually referred to as a fixed sexual identity, on practices and relationships that may have very different meanings and expectations in other cultures.. When applies cross culturally, the term ‘lesbian’ (and the term ‘homosexual’) invokes an essential linkage among practices whose connections may be tenuous at best.. Feminist theorists who have been central in efforts to deconstruct the category ‘woman’ point to the diversity of gender representations of women, arguing for multiplicity and difference, not homogeneity. Even within one culture, women are represented and represent themselves in many forms. ” (19)

“Lesbians have historically been represented by two ‘genders’ (butch and femme), but those categories fall far short of encompassing all possibilities. Many female to male (FTM) transgender activists refuse both labels, woman and lesbian, asserting the depth of their identity as men and defining their sexual practices accordingly (heterosexual or gay male.)”

“Does the category ‘queer’ resolve the problems associated with a term as culturally and historically specific as ‘lesbian’?.. It is doubtful, however, whether ‘queering’ lesbian and gay identity in the West has much relevance for the historic and present day cultures discussed in this anthology. Many of the identities and practices described involve not so much derision or disgust at women’s same sex relations, but acceptance and incorporation into a specific social fabric.” (20)

“Further, the term ‘queer’ does not allow for gender hierarchies and women’s oppression. A term lumping together lesbians and gays denies that lesbians are differently located within their societies.. Consequently, despite the problems associated with Western-identified terms, we think it is critical at this point in lesbian studies to refuse the ungendered category, whether ‘queer’ or ‘homosexual,’ while at the same time refusing reductive definitions or artificial boundaries for lesbian studies.. As long as gender, race, and sexual practice are used to mark people, we cannot ignore the consequences, or simply wish away the categories because they are construct. Despite the problems or misrecognition and ethnocentrism that use of the term ‘lesbian’ occasions, this term needs to remain visible for Western and non-Western audiences alike. Studies of ‘lesbians’ have for too long been submerged in studies of homosexuality in the West.’Lesbian’ remains the sole signifier that distinguishes female/women’s same sex eroticism from men’s. ‘Lesbian’ carries political meaning because it demands recognition for women’s differences.” (21)

“Although it falls short of expressing the diversities of female gender and sexual identities (as will any single category), we claim the term ‘lesbian’ even as we problematize it. It stands both as a signifier of women’s difference and as a term recognized globally (and adopted by many activists while rejected by many government officials) for women’s same-sex eroticism. While adopting it as a general term, we argue that it cannot stand in for transgendered females  or for women who do not identify as lesbians.  Consequently, we use the term ‘female same-sex relations’ as the more inclusive term or use local terms where appropriate.” (22)


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